When I challenged myself to write a novel, I had never written a single word of fiction. And though I’d read extensively my whole life, I had absolutely no idea of how to structure a novel.
So I did what I always do. I bought a book. That book launched what turned out to be a nine month independent study. Now, eighteen years later, I’d like to share a few of the books I found most helpful on my journey from challenge to completion of a novel.
From You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts I learned the “Fifteen Commandments For Writers Who Want To Be Published.” While Roberts also talks about plot, and clues and character it was her commandments that kept me in my chair slogging through the first draft of my first novel.
From On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, I learned to avoid adjectives and adverbs. And I believe my writing is stronger for it.
From Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, I learned the nitty gritty of writing. In Stein’s words, “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions—how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.”
So now I was focused on writing and my sentences were better but the unanswered question was still, how the hell do I structure a novel? You guessed it. I found another book.
From Jack M. Bickham’s Scene and Structure, I learned to put the sentences Stein taught me to write together in a scene, which is the basic building block of a novel. Bickham covers critical elements of the craft of writing, things like cause and effect, stimulus and response, and the structure of the scene.
Yea, I thought I had it. But when I sat at my computer I realized that though I was writing better sentences and I understood how to write a scene, I still didn’t know how to figure out what scenes were needed and how to string them together. Happily for me, right about that time Elizabeth George, my favorite writer, published Write Away, a book about her writing process that focuses on how she constructs a novel. George’s book was the final piece of the puzzle for me. It took me about four months to write a one hundred thousand word first draft of my first mystery. Lest you be too impressed, I rewrote that book, A Matter of Blood, for thirteen years before I felt it was ready to be published.
Over those thirteen years, the story and most of the characters remained the same but I made big changes to the main characters and rewrote my precious sentences many times. I referenced lots of books on editing but one was particularly helpful.
From Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques to Save Your Manuscript From Turning up…D.O.A. I learned to identify and correct problem areas in the manuscript.
What about your journey, life or writing? Do you have any favorite books?
Catherine Maiorisi is the author of the NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli mystery series featuring Corelli and her reluctant partner, Detective P.J. Parker. These two tough women fight each other and stand against the blue wall while solving high profile crimes.
The four books in the series are: A Matter of Blood, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, The Blood Runs Cold, a GCLS Goldie finalist and a Lambda Literary Award finalist, A Message in Blood, and Legacy in the Blood.
Catherine has also published four romances: Matters of the Heart, No One But You, Ready for Love and Taking a Chance on Love. The Disappearance of Lindy James is her first general fiction novel.
Her romance short stories are included in three Bella Books’ anthologies—Happily Ever After, Conference Call, and In This Together. “Come as You Want to Be” and “The Fan Club” are standalone short stories available on the Bella website. Her four mystery short stories can be found in the Murder New York Style Anthologies—Fresh Slices, Family Matters, Where Crime Never Sleeps and Justice for All.
Catherine is an active member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She is also a member of the Golden Crown Literary Society.
Visit Catherine at www.catherinemaiorisi.com.
Great post Catherine! I recognized some of your writing books but not all…thanks for the recommendations.
Glad to help. Suzanne. I’d forgotten how important they were to me and, in fact, inspired myself to reread
A very good start to your blogging role and congrats. Great explanation of how to make the most of some of the many writing books out there. Gillian Roberts! I too found her very helpful and practical. I’m a long way from a beginner now but I still sometimes haul it out when I feel like a need to go back to basics.
Yes, the Robert’s book is simple but manages to touch a lot of important points. I still look at those 15 commandments when I need a kick in the pants to get going.
Congrats!! I love your suggestions for how-to books and the example you set for persevering.
Hope to see you soon.
You certainly remember the persevering and the moaning and groaning. These books may not mean the same to others but they were key to my journey.
Great post. My hat is off to you. Aside from a love of the written word, a book (and getting it published) takes dedication and persistence. It’s obvious lashings of both. I wish you continued success.
Thank you, Daniella.
Great suggestions! Books are the best resources. 🙂
I always turn to books, Susan. And these were life savers.
Very impressive! I’m going to check these out. I also found Lisa Cron’s books useful.
Emilya, I’ve also read Lisa Cron’s book but I found it much later. I heard her speak at a Romance Writer’s of America conference a number of years ago and book her book.
Catherine, I loved hearing about your journey, which is true for so many other great authors who persisted in mastering their craft. I can’t wait to read everything you’ve written. BTW, I love Jack Bickham, who also wrote “The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and how to avoid them). Thank you for sharing your other resources to help us keep learning. Congratulations! And never stop writing.
Nancy, thanks for your support. Bickham’s 38 Most Common Fiction…. was also helpful to me.
Catherine, I could have written your opening sentences. I’ve read most of the books you mentioned. Several others are going on my TBR pile. We never stop learning and growing. Welcome to the newest Miss D!
Loved this post, Catherine. Added some craft books to my to-find pile, based on this great list! 🙂 Thanks!
Loved this post, Catherine! Thank you